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How to Ace Phone Interviews

A woman talking on the phone while sitting at a table with a laptop.

Bestselling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

While people around the world are working from home and social distancing to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, many job interviews are likely going to happen over the telephone. 

Employers often use phone interviews to weed out less qualified contenders. They are looking for reasons to reject candidates and winnow down their stack of applications. You, on the other hand, want to convince them of your talents and skills. This is an important conversation that you want to lead to more interviews and job offers.

There's a simple three-step process to land those offers:

  • Be prepared.
  • Know the company.
  • Know the job and understand how the employer expresses their needs.

Expect the Unexpected

Your job search activities need to be organized because you need to be readily accessible at all times. When people are all working from home, that means telephone interviews will all too often come when the kids are yelling or the dog is barking, or it's your turn to make dinner and you've just put it on the table. 

These things happen. Recruiters expect them and have heard them before, and they won't be offended if it takes you a moment to establish calm. Try to sound positive, friendly and collected:

"Thank you for calling. Would you wait a moment while I close the door?" You can then take a minute to settle yourself, pull up the company information on your computer and review the job posting before you resume the call.

Take a few controlled, deep breaths to slow down your pounding heart and put a smile on your face (it improves the tone of your voice). When you pick up the phone again, you'll be in control of yourself and the situation.

Bad Timing

If you are leaving the house or absolutely cannot have a phone conversation, say so immediately and reschedule: "I'm heading out. Can we schedule a time when I can call you back?" (Beware of overfamiliarity. You should always refer to the interviewer by his or her last name until invited to do otherwise.)

Commonly Asked Questions

Remember, this is a time when the manager or the recruiter wants to rule you in or out as fast as possible. Ace your answers to these two commonly asked questions and you're likely to be well on your way to making the callback list.

1.     "Tell me a little about yourself."

This not an invitation to ramble. The interviewer wants to know about your experience and qualifications for this job. Answer the question well to create a good first impression and set the tone for your job candidacy.

You should already have the answer to this question pretty much prepared. The target job deconstruction exercise we discussed previously helped you identify the key skill sets that all employers seek. You'll know:

  •  How employers prioritize, think about and express the responsibilities of the job so you can communicate more effectively by using the same words and descriptions.
  • The problems your job is there to anticipate, identify, prevent and solve. List the ways you execute your responsibilities to identify and prevent those problems from arising, and the ways you handle those problems when they do arise.
  • How your job helps the department support company goals.

Take these points from your target job description and turn them into four or five sentences that reflect your experience in each of those areas. This gives you a condensed professional work history that focuses on the experience most important to what employers look for in this job—and it gives your phone interview a very strong start.

2.     "What do you know about the company?"

Your interviewer spends the majority of his or her waking hours at work. Your knowledge of the job and understanding of the company—who they are, what they do and what they believe in—help interviewers evaluate your skills and engagement with the work.

Take the time to research each company you apply to. Learn each company's achievements and express your admiration. That shows your research in a businesslike and complimentary way. 

If you can answer these two questions that start almost every job interview as we have discussed, you will be so far ahead of the competition, the job offer will be yours to lose.

From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.


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